Chapter 7 of Cargo
Bouncing along in the backseat of a black SUV following a convoy of assorted vehicles, the rough dirt track and unpredictable terrain jolt me with each bump and twist. The vehicles plough through the untamed landscape, leaving a cloud of orange dust in their wake. Despite the stoic faces of my captors, I can’t shake the sense of unease that gnaws at me as we near what looks like a dig site. The ominous aura of the place, its isolation, seeps into my bones, and an inexplicable feeling of foreboding settles in the pit of my stomach. As we finally arrive at the site, my heart pounds in my chest. I can see the grim expression on the crew’s faces, the tension in the air palpable.
In a storm of dust, the convoy grinds to a halt on a dry flat section of a river bed that bends around an enormous rust-coloured hill.
As I stepped out of the SUV, I can’t help but feel a sense of curiosity usurp my unease. The desert stretched out before me, its vastness and emptiness both majestic and eerie. In the heart of this barren wilderness, at the foot of this mound, lines of trenches and pits have been dug out, crisscrossing the dry riverbed. Wooden scaffolding and weathered tents dot the perimeter, providing a glimpse of humanity amidst the desolate expanse and shelter for equipment.
“Start on the artefacts,” orders Miĉjo.
The secretive nature of the operation does little to alleviate my growing sense of apprehension. The intense sun beats down on me, adding to the already suffocating atmosphere. It is as if the desert itself knows the secrets that lay buried beneath the sand and is reluctant to reveal them.
The mood grows even more secretive as the crew pushes me to the centre of the site. The team of cajeros seem anxious, their eyes darting around suspiciously. It was clear that there is more to this place than meets the eye. The men approach the four black utility vehicles, parked in a line along what used to be the bank of a river, and got busy unloading the crates. One by one they broke apart the timber slats and unpacked a collection of serpentine figurines made of dark stone. They carry them to the dug-out pits and gently place them inside.
Each is half a metre tall, and heavy.
Once the seven artefacts were carefully positioned in their designated spots, the cajeros crew commences their solemn burial task. Shovels cut through the soft desert sand, and the rhythmic sounds of digging echo in the arid air. Each member of the team works with a sense of reverence as if this act is significant. As the trenches fill with sand, the earth embraces the artefacts, concealing their secret purpose. A sense of completion and closure settles over the crew, knowing that they have played a part in some kind of bizarre ritual.
“When the rains come,” states Miĉjo with a smirk as his cajeros pound the soft ground with shovels. “All these artefacts will be exposed. Our understanding of human existence will be turned upside down.”
Within the next hour, the trenches and pits, except one deep ditch, are filled and compacted, and the ancient river bed, now the guardian of these statues, returns almost to its natural state. The scarred surface will eventually blend with the natural landscape after the cycles of time and weather.
“I don’t understand the point of all this,” I brave the threat of violence to express my bemusement. “Why would the Snake Island Foundation do this?”
Miĉjo laughs, “You don’t even know what the Snake Island Foundation is.”
“Well, it’s not an archaeological institution, that’s for sure.”
“Don’t be jumping to conclusions,” replies Miĉjo, studying me intensely.
“You’re faking something,” I respond, annoyed about being treated like a fool. “This is some kind of archaeological forgery.”
“Wrong,” the tall, angular man retorts, his annoyance in obvious conflict with his reluctance to relinquish information. He points to the jagged hilltop and proclaims, “See that rise? That’s no natural formation. That is an ancient marvel, the head of a sprawling earthwork sculpture that stretches an impressive kilometre to the west. This place was once a lush landscape. Millions of people, human people, lived here.”
I look around at the barren country, trying to imagine such a sight. “When?” I ask, alarmed by his use of the word ‘human’.
Miĉjo points to the eastern sky. “About two and fifty eclipses ago.” He looks at me, at my bewilderment as I try to work out the math, and clarifies, “That’s a hundred thousand years.”
“How do you know all this?” I ask.
“The mound is the head of a giant serpent, its body winding its way westwards.” Miĉjo’s unwillingness to divulge information seems to have dissipated. A bad omen, since I may not be surviving long enough to tell any tales. “The raised embankments trace the creature’s body, while its majestic head, gazës towards the heavens, awaiting each dawn.”
Miĉjo falls silent, then nods to one of his cajeros, who immediately springs into action, grabbing a tattered tool bag from one of the trucks. Dragging it to the centre of the site, he pulls out a metre-long metal spike with a ring on one end, and a mallet and gets to work.
With a resounding clang, the worker drives the stake deep into the earth with a well-practised swing of the mallet. The thuds echo across the excavation site, each strike sending vibrations through the ground. With unwavering focus, the worker ensures the stake is securely anchored, then attaches a shackle to the ring.
“What is that thing?” I yell a the group, each of them avoiding eye contact with me.
“Like I said,” answers Miĉjo. “I was a gift. A gift to me. Too bad.” He looks at me, the lament on his face genuine.
“What is it?”
Miĉjo’s brow scrunches up. “I haven’t the fuckest idea. It would have made a cool pet.” He grins, almost sniggering as he talks. “Sometimes they reward us with weird and wonderful gifts. Sometimes, we get given some crazy shit, fucken insane fucking shit, I’m telling you. Blows my mind, after all the incredible shit I’ve seen.”
Miĉjo raises a finger, signalling enough. He looks at the cajero standing next to him at orders, “Get the bait ready.”
Deep down, I knew that being their human bait is not going to end well for me, but my curiosity about this mysterious operation prevents me from outright panic. They grab me and secure my wrists to the stake using hemp rope.
“Why hasn’t it killed me already?” I yell.
Miĉjo pauses, as if unsure of how to answer. “I don’t know.”
“This thing has killed over twenty people since I took possession of the cargo,” I shout at him. “It has been shot at, but the bullets didn’t seem to slow it down, at all. Doesn’t leave any bodies. It doesn’t discriminate against bikers or children, and yet, it hasn’t attacked me once. What makes you think I will be any good as bait?”
“I’m hoping you will be,” answers Miĉjo as he walks over and stands over me. “It’s a shame. The promise of a fun day trip to the desert has ended you here. You have become a part of something far greater than yourself, yet you don’t know it, or understand it.”
One of the cajeros rolls a rusty barrel and places it next to me. They start filling it up with the timber planks from the crates. The other gang members grab weapons from the utilities, assault rifles, shotguns, and even a bow and arrow kit. They begin erecting tents, made from a type of silver canvas, on the perimeter of the dig site, creating a defensive circle centred around the one remaining ditch.
As the sun begins its descent beyond the horizon, the once bustling campsite transforms into an eerie stillness. The bonfire crackles to life, casting dancing shadows across the landscape. The cajeros, having completed their tasks, hastily evacuate on their pickup trucks, leaving behind an air of mystery and secrecy. In the fading light, Miĉjo’s men emerge from the shadows of their tents, donning silver overalls that shimmer like ghosts in the twilight. Their purpose, veiled in secrecy, adding an element of intrigue to the gathering darkness. As the night envelops the land, Miĉjo crouches next to me, zipping up what looks like hazard protection gear. “When the time comes, I recommend you close your eyes,” he says.
I hesitate for a moment before instinctively closing my eyes. When I open them I scan the darkening horizon, something about the barren landscape makes me dread what is about to occur.
Once dressed, the gangsters set up positions in a wide circle around me, hiding within the silver foil tents. When they finish this operation, the stars emerge from the black heavens.
“What you are about to experience is something miraculous,” Miĉjo says as he sits down next to me, warming himself by the flames.
“Can you enlighten me?”
Miĉjo rubs his chin, again his chagrin visible on his face. “Ever heard of the Igigi?”
“Are you familiar with ancient Mesopotamian mythology?”
The slim man continues rubbing his chin. “The Igigi are a group of deities, often depicted as celestial beings, associated with the heavens and the skies.” He looks up at the night sky. “They came from over there.” He points towards Orion’s Belt. “The Sumerians believed that the Igigi were the younger gods, serving as the divine workforce for the ruling deities, known as the Anunnaki.”
Micjo smiles, “Yeah, pretty much. Subordinate to the Anunnaki. They were still worshipped as celestial beings by humans. They were held responsible for various duties, including looking after the stars, ensuring the changing of seasons, and granting the desires of the gods in power. The Igigi played a crucial role in upholding the harmony of the cosmos.”
“Is that what that beast is? From some kind of myth?”
Micjo shugs. “When is a myth, not a myth?”
I try to process the facts that I know up until this moment, and I still can’t make any sense of this. “Why bury the artefacts?”
The man ponders my question, prompting a coyness to flash across his eyes. “Ever heard of the Bašmu? Or the Hydra? Or any of the countless legends of snake monsters transcending cultures and boundaries, weaving their way into the tapestry of global folklore. These mythical creatures, often depicted as fearsome serpents of immense power, have fascinated and haunted the human imagination for millennia. From ancient civilizations to modern-day storytelling, their presence echoes in the annals of history and mythology.” He looks up at the stars, at the constellations, and continues, “Bašmu, originating from Mesopotamian myths, slithers through the sands of time, while the multi-headed Hydra, of Greek origin, continues to enthral with its mythological battles. These tales of serpent-like monstrosities resonate with the universal fascination and fear of the unknown, representing the age-old struggle between mortals and the enigmatic forces that lie beyond the realms of comprehension.”
“Are you saying this beast is somehow not a myth?”
Micjo looks at me with a raised eyebrow, and says, “You should ask that question later tonight.”